Originally published by Florida Phoenix on September 14, 2023 and written by Craig Pittman.

Blooms of pollution-fueled blue-green algae — known among scientists as “cyanobacteria” — have become a perpetual problem all over Florida. It’s gotten to the point where we’ve got a Blue-Green Algae Task Force full of actual scientists to study the problem and recommend solutions for the Legislature to ignore.

The worst bloom was the one in 2018, when a foul-smelling green ooze forced Martin County officials to close Jensen Beach for the Fourth of July, as if there were a shark noshing on tourists. One woman told me it smelled “like death on a cracker.”

The bloom stretched for miles along the state’s Atlantic coast, coated the water in the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie River, popped up on the west coast in the Caloosahatchee River and sprouted in thick layers across Lake Okeechobee, where the toxicity was 200 times what the World Health Organization says constitutes a human health hazard.

It would have been nice to sprinkle a chemical concoction on that putrid bloom and make it disappear, like a David Copperfield trick. But only if you knew doing so wouldn’t make things worse.

It turns out I’m not the only one who found this cart-first, horse-second approach odd.

Environmental groups and scientists have been raising similar questions for at least two years. So far, they haven’t gotten any answers from the people handing out millions in taxpayers’ dollars — which makes everyone even more suspicious.

“There’s a real risk of snake oil salesmen gaining traction here,” said Eve Samples, executive director of Friends of the Everglades.

But for now, according to longtime water scientist and former Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani, “You’re going to find people are more afraid of the algae than they are of the unintended consequences of the treatment.”

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